By Lyn Hagin Meade
The ancient Greeks said that stones and rocks were the bones of the earth and, as I stand on Killiney beach with my daughter, it feels as if they are. “They are alive you know,” she says to me, but I begin my explanations of how they are made: igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic.
She is already gone, a windswept silhouette.
The rocks ebb and flow, rounded by sea, ground by weight, gouged by bacteria, carved by time. Some were once alive, the shells, the vegetation.
Is it not hard to think of the rocks as alive when they jealously guard the skeleton of a prehistoric giant or a clutch of fossilized eggs? Or of the rock hardened ash, protecting the last form of Pompeii’s unfortunate residents.
Stone, the smooth marble of a sculpture, sensuous under the palm. The hallowed carved buttresses of a grand cathedral, arching into the heavens.
Our garden is a depository of precious finds. Hours are lost each summer creating structures for the fairies out of these little treasures.
I shipped twice, across the Atlantic, my shoebox collection of rocks. I knew each by feel. Even blindfolded I could pick up each craggy shape and remember where – what moment and what occasion that the moment felt special enough to pick up a rock: climbing Vesuvius for the first time, dizzy with exhilaration, alone and at the crater edge. A pebble from each first mountain climb, from a volcanic lake, from the Sugar Loaf, from Crete, from the San Andreas Fault.
On our wedding day, my husband presented me with a stone, one his mother gave him the last time they walked. A small black stone, that I saw, held for him the love of his mother and the memory of their time together. We keep it in a bag of our wedding gifts – an eagle feather, a conch shell, a bracelet.
My toddlers were rock fiends. Pockets jangled heavily with stones every wash day. Simple, round, dusty ones from the playground, the church yard, the driveway, treasures all.
My seven year old still comes home from school laden with her rock treasures. The rocks find their way into boxes, covered with tissue blankets, nestled with cotton balls.
Stories children tell, enhanced by stones, an outcrop of concrete occasionally exposed in our drive has been knowingly described as exposed fossilized dinosaur bone, each little guest eager to begin an excavation no matter how often we decline.
I stand on a volcanic island alive and growing new rock. I feel the power in the black sand and basalt.
I stand at Point Reyes, straddling the San Andres fault, watch the undulating hills as rocks move under the force of other rock.
I drink the mineral rich waters filtered through layers of volcanic rocks, our most exclusive choice to hydrate. Imbued with rock qualities.
Digging in the rock; we mine, scaffolding inner hidden rocks; in search of rare treasures, risking our lives to rock falls and gas pockets. Then, we stumble on the vast caves, hidden cathedrals of nature’s rock art hidden under foot.
On windy days in Malahide we wander with our eyes to the ground, hoping for a find of 350 million year old fossils. Most are no more than leaf outlines and the occasional fish fin. We crack open interesting shapes of rocks in the hopes of a trilobite.
We all pick up that piece of beach glass, that spiral carved by the sea. We drop it back down, too heavy to carry away.
No more, my mother tells me, a glint of mischief in her eye. She has made a decision, to collect her favourites, to display them, they are her living thing, a defiance of convention.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin spoke of primordial rocks as living beings, the progenitors of life. And in a sense if life came from this debris space rock, then perhaps the inanimate is indeed animate in its composition?
The ancient Egyptians chose to top their obelisks, with a copy of their sacred Benben stone, associated with Amun and the origins of life, embodied by an extra terrestrial iron rich meteorite.
Our ancestors, sheltering in rocks, drew shapes and stories; rocks, the first ever lasting canvas, Easter Island, the pyramids, Nazca, Newgrange.
Our brilliant buildings, those that house the institutions highest in our esteem are made of stone. This cladding lends symbolic impermeability, strength and permanence.
Our last act is to be capped with a stone, ever present memorial, “ _ was here” – crayon rubbings for a future generation.
Bones of the earth, scaffold of our life, testament to our existence, Stone is alive to us and through us.
Copyright © 2017 Lyn Hagin Meade. All rights reserved.